Consumer Reports and the supplements scandal that wasn't

The September issue of Consumer Reports warned of 15 supplement ingredients to “always avoid,” but by and large the media did not take the bait. Is the anti-supplement story getting old?

The nice thing about a target on your back is that it will often fade in the sun or wash off in the rainy season. For the supplement industry, a bright summer after months of drenching downpour might be at hand.

Or maybe the media has a short attention span.

Either way, the Consumer Reports “Supplements Can Make You Sick” headline isn’t getting the kind of press the industry might dread or expect.

Consumer Reports is a respected publication, and businesses like the auto industry rise and fall on its unflinching verdict. It’s rarely hysterical, and even the supplements article has its merits (no, you shouldn’t be buying caffeine powder in bulk). But what’s curious about this latest anti-supplement salvo is just how little traction it has garnered in the press.

No Anahad O’Connor byline, or any coverage at all, in The New York Times. It didn’t make it into the Wall Street Journal. Even the ABC Good Morning America segment didn’t go all negative. Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC’s special medical correspondent, told viewers that she advises many of her patients to take supplements. “The reality is, and I see this every day in my practice, is that a lot of people don’t eat well, or can’t get these nutrients from food and they do have chronic conditions or are on medicines that make it difficult,” Ashton said.

Beyond that, coverage of the provocative Consumer Reports cover story has been relatively scant. A piece by The Toledo Blade’s medical editor is a long way from the front page of The New York Times.

It could be that the story is getting old. Indeed, Council for Responsible Nutrition President Steve Mister has described the Consumer Reports feature as more of the “same old, same old,” story. There are only so many ways you can tell that same old story, and the definition of “news” includes "new." “Man bites dog” is a better headline than “Usual suspects criticize supplements.” So this isn’t getting the attention that the Annals of Internal Medicine got in 2013 with its “stop wasting money on vitamins and minerals” headline, and that’s a good thing.

A bad thing would be to assume the media has moved on. The target on the industry’s back seems to be fading, but it can be slapped back on at a moment’s notice, with a single headline.

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